Comedy series is all relative for sisters-in-law
BY KYLIE ORA LOBELL | PUBLISHED MAR 30, 2017 | HOLLYWOOD
Melissa Greenspan and Michelle Azar are best friends and loving sisters-in-law in real life. But in their humorous new web series, “How to Beat Your Sister-in-Law (at everything),” they play frenemies who constantly try to one-up each other.
The series, which will be available online in April, features episodes lasting from 30 seconds to just over two mintues that follow Azar and Greenspan as they compete over leading the PTA and who can drink their water faster at restaurants, smoke pot to deal with their hot flashes and vie for their children’s love. The two women, who are older than 40, also highlight topics like menopause and their sexuality.
“The idea is that we are sisters-in-law in a ‘Spy vs. Spy’ situation, where each one tries to knock off the other,” Greenspan said. “We all have families, and with some family members we get along great, while we are crazy competitive with others. We focus on sisters-in-law because it’s a fresh take on families. It’s where we got our inspiration.”
Greenspan and Azar met while they were undergraduates at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts more than 20 years ago. Both were rehearsing for a 20th anniversary staging of “Hair” and became fast friends. “We fell in love with each other,” Greenspan said. “I was enthralled by Michelle’s talent and singing.”
During the course of their friendship, they have gotten married, had children and established acting careers.
Azar has had parts in “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Community” and “Bones.” She lives with her husband, Temple Emanuel Senior Rabbi Jonathan Aaron, in Pico-Robertson with their two children.
Greenspan, who lives in Santa Monica, is mother to an 11-year-old and wife of Michelle’s brother David Azar. She voiced a character in “The Wild Thornberrys Movie” and has appeared on “Good Girls Revolt” and “NCIS.”
Azar and Greenspan are inseparable when they’re not working or with their families. They have keys to each other’s homes and drop off each other’s dogs for play dates. Greenspan often will pop into Azar’s home for breaks on busy days.
In between audition and family responsibilities, the two came up with the idea for the series two years ago and approached their friends Susan Cohen and Sydnie Suskind, who are writing partners, to help them create it (Suskind also is married to a member of the clergy, Cantor Yonah Kliger at Temple Judea).
Once Suskind and Cohen were on board, Azar and Greenspan set up a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project and raised $20,000. “We decided to have a competition on who could raise more money, myself or Michelle,” Greenspan said.
They shot 12 episodes in five days and signed on editor and director Debra Neil-Fisher, who worked on “The Hangover” trilogy as well as “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.” She directed three episodes.
“We feel very blessed to work with these women,” Greenspan said.
Azar added that they each took on different tasks during the shooting to make sure it all came together. “I was doing craft services, managing the money and doing some guerrilla shooting,” she said. “When I looked around, everybody on set seemed happy. Our leadership as a foursome was sound.”
The production received help from the women’s families, as well. “All of our husbands got involved on the side. Our families were there for us and the web series,” Cohen said.
Azar, Greenspan, Cohen and Suskind also banded together and booked guest actors from some of television’s biggest shows to appear in the series. They include Suzy Nakamura from “Dr. Ken,” Phil LaMarr from “Veep” and “MadTV,” and Brynn Thayer from “Ray Donovan.”
Though the show has not yet premiered, a bonus episode, in which Azar and Greenspan “power pee” in a race to see who finishes first, already has 3,000 hits on YouTube. At the same time that they’re promoting the series, Azar and Greenspan are campaigning to establish a national Sister-in-Law Day.
“We did some on-the-street interviews on what people thought about a possible national Sister-in-Law Day,” Cohen said. “Everyone had a point of view about their sister-in-law.”
Azar believes viewers will relate to the show. “People who have watched the small sampling we’ve done enjoy the humor of it,” she said. “It’s about family. If you have a sister- or brother-in-law, you know what it’s like to feel competitive and want more of your mom’s attention.”
Along with trying to launch a new national holiday, the team behind “How to Beat Your Sister-in-Law (at everything)” hopes to get their web series onto a network or a streaming channel. “We’re excited to see where it goes,” Cohen said.
When the show premieres, Greenspan said that viewers will enjoy the connection between the sisters-in-law. “They’re going to see these great funny moments and will recognize the love in these moments.”
Greenspan added that she and her sister-in-law do so many things as a team, and their series has only made them closer.
“We parent together, and we genuinely enjoy it,” she said. “Sometimes we tire of each other because we communicate differently and say it like it is. But through Michelle, I’ve learned to step up my game.”